I read an article today from the Catholic News about a new art exhibit at the Indianapolis Art Museum that features Catholic artwork and artifacts, from 17th century painters and artists from Spain and Latin America. I'm a little far away today to go visit this exhibition, so I took the virtual tour at http://www.imamuseum.org/.
This is a painting done by El Greco, titled "Holy Face" and is dated 1586. This image represents St. Veronica holding the linen Jesus used to wipe his blood and sweat from his face on his way to Calvary, and it left an imprint of his features on this linen. I believe that El Greco used an image of a woman that was asthetically pleasing to him and used the name Veronica (not found in the Bible) since the latin phrase "vero-icona" means "true picture" so she represents the personification of the object she carries. Artists are known to do these things. I believe there is a shroud and a woman who was there for Jesus, but her name probably wasn't Veronica...that's all I'm saying.
The name of the exhibition is "Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World" and the curator would like to see the viewers "not just looking at the images but also contemplating them." She also said, "They are functional objects. They weren't made strictly for decoration. They were made to convey meaning. The church in the 17th century had very precise notions of how works of art should function in religious practice."
At the entrance to the first gallery, titled "In Defense of Images" there is this explanation: "In 1563, faced with allegations of idolatry and abuse, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) reaffirmed the usefullness of images as a means for the instruction and edification of the faithful."
I enjoy viewing these images as well as contemplating them and I believe this is an important part of art history as well as religious history. A while back, in 2005, a Catholic church in a nearby town, had four people disrupt mass and destroy a century old altar. This took place before communion and the people ran up to the altar and shouted that Catholics worship idols. They went behind the altar and shoved it down the steps, destroying it in front of the whole congregation. This particular church was exhibiting a sacred relic of the past and these people thought it was being stored inside the altar. Thankfully, they were wrong about that too.